SOME QUESTIONS (and answers) ON LANGUAGE LEARNING

After reading and investigating about different widespread beliefs and theories on language learning, I’ve arrived to the conclusion that society is concerned about foreign language education and is aware of the need to have good commands on those foreign languages, basically English, for good job opportunities and communicating effectively among others. During the last 10 years approximately, new educational trends have been spread all over the Country, promoting early language courses and introducing new methodologies both for adults and young children. Bilingualism in Catalonia is also in the spotlight, due to the recent Catalan-Spanish politics crisis. Therefore, some contradictory and confusing beliefs regarding foreign language and bilingual education had been widespread. I’m going to analyse some of the beliefs and contrast them to what experts in the field state, so as to arrive to a clear conclusion among the effects of bilingualism and foreign language learning.

Is it better to learn a foreign language at an early age?

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MULTILINGUALISM IN A CONTEXT (part II)

After more analysis on the data and information extracted from my research on Multilingualism in the Abrera public school Francesc Platón i Sartí, I reflected on some more questions regarding Language Education.

How are the different languages taught in this school?

Ccatalan and spanish flag.jpgatalan is the common language spoken at Francesc Platón i Sartí, therefore they foster Catalan language at all levels. This means Primary students have 122’5 hours of Catalan per year.

105 hours of Spanish lessons are taught per year in Primary Education. This means that students are bilinguals; they know and are able to speak both Catalan and Spanish.

Being taught in Catalan is very important for those immigrants who’s mother tongue is different, because it is the only moment where they would listen to and use it. Nevertheless, Spanish is the common language used within students. If you walk around the school at lunch time, for instance, you would notice Spanish is used among students and even with the monitors too. Translanguaging occurs too in those student-student conversations, changing from Spanish to Catalan in some cases, or from immigrants minority languages to common language spoken at school in other cases (see this Psychology Today interview for further information about Translanguaging).

englishEnglish is taught as a subject, starting at the age of 6. Students at Cicle Inicial attend no more than 52,5 hours a school year. English language input increases as they move forward to Cicle Mitjà, attending to 70 hours per year and Cicle Superior, having a total of 87,5 hours.

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MULTILINGUALISM IN A CONTEXT (part I)

Establishing a scenario for a multicultural context

Abrera is a small municipality in Baix Llobregat with no more than 12.000 habitants and about 6.27% are immigrants. The number of foreign people has been considerably increasing during the last years due to the lower flat rentals Abrera offers to the citizens. Living next to Llobregat is cheaper rather than living in Barcelona, this is why the majority of immigrants try to find a place to live in the suburbs. Morocco has been the most important source of migrants coming to Spain in search of work. They live together in neighbourhoods and communities, sharing flats and socio-cultural activities. Living in community also helps them to carry through their kids education, providing advice and accompany for the new arrivals.

I focus my research on the public school Francesc Platón i Sartí, which offers public education from 3 to 12 years old in Abrera. A high number of students are immigrants from Morocco, a lower number come from China and a minority come from other European countries, such as Bulgaria or Polonia. It is crystal water that the school needs to have sort of language project to deal with these different and plural languages and cultures. The school headmaster kindly explained me that this is the first year they don’t have a welcome centre or reception room due to the state cutbacks. Therefore, they have no specific plan for attending diversity; they analyze each case individually and, depending on the specific needs of the student, they organize somehow an individual plan with their limited resources. It is the case, for instance, of a Bulgarian kid who started the course last September, without knowing a word in Catalan or Spanish. A teacher would follow and walk with him during the first months, guiding and teaching him individually basic concepts about the new language, school and culture. By now, this student doesn’t need individual support any more because he is showing remarkable progress, being able to follow a conversation and produce short well structured sentences. Nevertheless, he stills have some extra Catalan and Spanish classes, separately from the rest of the class, to achieve a become independent by the end of the present course.

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Age effects on foreign language learning

Since Penfield (1953) settled an optimum age for language learning within the first decade of life, the idea that children have an advantage over adults in foreign language acquisition has been widespread until present days. Further researches, as Lenneberg’s critical period concept (1967), stated that language capacity was determined by neurological basis situated at puberty. Krasen (1979) stated that adults and older children carry on through early stages of syntactic and morphological development faster than young children, while students who are naturally exposed to a second language during childhood generally achieve higher proficiency on that language, rather than those beginning as adults. It is clear then the relationship between three main factors: age, amount of exposure and eventual accomplishment in second language acquisition.

As mentioned in the Teaching English as a Third Language Cenoz paper, early introduction of English at schools has no negative effects on the acquisition of other languages (referring to L1 or L2) or overall cognitive development. I’m going to develop the arguments deeply in the following paragraphs as well as refute some myths widespread about age influence on foreign language learning.

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Multilingualism for everyone

 

sense-titolClick here to watch TED Talk: Kim Potovsky “No child left monolingual”

Kim Potowsky is Associate Professor of Spanish linguistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she directs the Spanish heritage language program. In this TED talk she describes the individual and social benefits of multilingualism as well as its history in the United States. In this post I’m going to briefly sum up the main ideas she has exposed in her talk and further reflections that have crossed my mind.

There are 65% bilingual or multilingual people all over the world but, as Potowsky focuses her research on US, she found that only 20% of the citizens speak non-English languages at home. The fact is that America exhibits and promotes multilingualism, by neither encouraging immigrants to maintain their heritage language nor promoting other languages to be learnt, a part from English. US doesn’t have an official language, but it is obvious that English is required all over the country to success in a professional and social way. Some myths have been heard during many years regarding immigrants and their capability for speaking English, which Potowsky refutes easily, by showing some census results reporting that over 75% of people who speak another language in the home can speak well or very well English. That means society is making the effort to become integrated in the English speaking countries but… why are they forgetting about their heritage language?

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Do you speak English?

Click here to watch the 30 minuts ‘Do you speak Enlish?’ documentary

Globalisation has changed world citizens’ lifestyle; nowadays people has other needs and interests, enabling easy communication and commerce between countries and establishing then a common language spoken all over the world, which is English. In Catalonia, migration and tourism have influenced the spoken language too, when Catalans are required a good English command when applying for a job. Even though English has been tough in schools for more than 30 years, Catalan society is not enough prepared to achieve that linguistic requirements. Actually, Catalan people have some advantages when learning a language due to the fact we are bilinguals; we have proficient commands on Spanish and Catalan. Knowing two languages helps developing strategies while learning a third language, or foreign language. Therefore, why is it so complicate for society to have good English commands?

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